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Acting Punjab Governor Signs Controversial Defamation Bill Into Law

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LAHORE: The contentious Punjab Defamation Bill, 2024, has been enacted into law with the signature of acting Governor Punjab Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan on Saturday. 

The bill, which drew significant criticism from journalists and digital rights activists, received final approval from Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan, currently serving as acting governor in the absence of Punjab Governor Sardar Salim Khan.

According to sources, Governor Sardar Salim has taken leave from his duties, paving the way for Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan to sign the bill into law.

The Punjab Assembly passed the bill on May 20 amid uproar from the opposition and strong objections from journalists and rights organisations, both locally and internationally.

Reacting to the development, Arshad Ansari, President of the Lahore Press Club, accused the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of betraying journalists, alleging a coordinated effort to push the bill through. “The bill was signed by the acting governor by sending the Punjab governor on leave under a plan,” Ansari remarked, expressing disappointment with the PPP’s stance.

He further stated, “A meeting of the action committee will be called soon and future strategy will be announced,” indicating a collective response from journalists against the bill.

Shortly after its approval, the law faced legal challenges in the Lahore High Court, with journalist Jaffar Ahmad Yar and citizen Raja Riaz filing petitions against it. The petitions argued that the defamation law violates constitutional principles and was passed without proper consultation with stakeholders, including journalists.

Farieha Aziz, co-founder of Bolo Bhi, an organisation advocating for digital rights and civic responsibility, called for the law to be challenged, criticising its potential to suppress dissent and privilege the ruling elite. Aziz highlighted the lack of meaningful consultation and warned of its detrimental impact on free speech.

Governor Khan, a PPP member, had previously pledged thorough consultations before signing the bill, but his absence led to Malik Muhammad Ahmad taking over and approving the bill, despite objections from within the party.

Syed Ali Haider Gilani, PPP Punjab Parliamentary leader, voiced opposition to the bill, labelling it as a threat to media freedom. He assured that the PPP stands in support of the freedom of the press and will resist any attempts to curtail it.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also expressed grave concerns about the bill, which establishes defamation as a civil wrong and extends its jurisdiction to fake news disseminated through digital platforms. Tribunals will be established to adjudicate defamation cases, with a mandate to resolve them within six months.

These developments underscore the contentious nature of the Punjab Defamation Bill, with its enactment sparking widespread criticism and legal challenges.

 

Hassan Naqvi
Hassan Naqvi
Hassan Naqvi is an award-winning digital, print, and broadcast investigative journalist who is the co-founder of The Scoop. He also hosts his web shows 'The Scoop' and 'The Hassan Naqvi Show'.

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